Coach Proud of Team's Newspaper Theft Should Resign

If Guy Morriss is proud of his students for stealing newspapers, it's probably because they didn't fumble them for once.
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If Guy Morriss is proud of his students for stealing newspapers, it's probably because they didn't fumble them for once.

The short version of the story is that, after a story in the East Texan that reported on the arrest of two football team members, the Texas A&M-Commerce football team went out and stole the newspaper from the on-campus racks. When head coach Guy Morriss heard about it, he is quoted as having this reaction:

On Feb. 26, Crime Information Officer Lt. Jason Bone interviewed head coach of the football team Guy Morriss, who said he advocated his players' actions.

"I'm proud of my players for doing that," he said. "This was the best team building exercise we have ever done."

If these are actually Guy Morriss's words, he shouldn't be coaching students. He shouldn't be coaching a foosball table. If he ran an obedience school for dogs, he'd probably teach them to destroy the couch to cover up the fact that they were chewing on it.

The first problem is that newspaper theft is, well, theft. Printed in every copy of the East Texan is a statement that copies beyond the first cost a quarter--but even without such a statement, stealing all the newspapers would still be theft. The fact that the owner of property chooses not to charge for it doesn't make it legal for someone else to come along and destroy it.

For example, if I wanted to give you a free car, and someone else came along and set it on fire, it would hardly be a defense that the car was "free." The vandal would owe us the value of the car. That's because deciding not to charge for something doesn't mean it has no value under the law. Newspapers are no different; advertisers paid good money to have their ads printed and distributed.

But that issue pales in comparison to the much uglier problem facing A&M-Commerce. If Morriss is an employee of a state college, and if he actually encouraged this behavior before it took place (a point of ambiguity), his actions would violate the First Amendment, too. And that would mean the wrongdoing isn't just isolated to a couple of meatheads trying to protect their friends--it would mean the problem is A&M-Commerce, because they're paying his salary.

If Morriss encouraged this behavior before it took place, it boils down to a pretty straightforward First Amendment problem--a government employee encouraging people to go steal newspapers to cover up a story that embarrasses his department. Not even Richard Nixon attempted that, and he was no stranger to cover-ups.

Of course, even if Morriss only cheered his players on after the fact, that's not a great recommendation of his ability as a coach. Giving athletes a pat on back for stealing is probably not a constructive step in their development as students, unless they're majoring in Shoplifting.

The underlying story isn't a trivial one. The team's apparent motivation for stealing the newspapers was that the East Texan reported on a pair of players who were busted for having drugs--which were "packaged to sell," according to the police report--in their apartment. You would think that a team with members accused of drug possession might be able to come up with a team-building exercise other than lawbreaking. (I hear peeing into a cup really builds camaraderie.)

The bottom line is this: if Morriss supported this theft, either before or after the fact, he shouldn't be in a position that involves building character. And considering the team's 5-5 record last year, it might not be a bad thing for the football team, either.